By S. Binodkumar Singh*
On July 16, 2017, four terrorists of the Neo-Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (Neo-JMB) surrendered 12 hours after Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) personnel cordoned off a tin-shed dwelling in Ashulia, a suburban area near the capital, Dhaka. The four arrested were Mozammel Huq, Rashedul Nabi, Ifranul Islam and Alamgir Hossain. Two pistols, a laptop, and some books and pamphlets were recovered from the house.
On July 12, 2017, Police arrested three Neo-JMB terrorists in Chapainawabganj District: Abdul Malek aka Alam (46), Al Amin aka Lutu (25) and Mohammad Mithun (25). 19 kilograms of explosive materials were recovered from them.
On July 7, 2017, the Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) unit of Dhaka Metropolitan Police arrested Hatkata Mahfuz, one of the planners of the Holey Artisan attack , and also the top explosives specialist of Neo-JMB, along with three accomplices, from an orchard in the Kansat area of Chapainawabganj District.
On July 5, 2017, RAB personnel arrested three JMB terrorists from a house in the Master Bari area of Gazipur District while they were planning to carry out terrorist activities. RAB officials disclosed that there were allegations of their involvement in the 2005 serial bomb blasts.
On July 1, 2017, the CTTC unit of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police arrested three female Neo-JMB terrorists, including Tithi Khatun (32), wife of Neo-JMB ‘chief’ Ayub Bachchu; Sumaiya Akter (26), wife of the outfit’s ‘second-in-command’ Abzar; and Toly Khatun, wife of JMB terrorist Arman Ali, after raiding a hideout in Kushtia District’s Bheramara area. The hideout was neutralized in a drive codenamed “Tepid Punch”, targeting safe havens of top leaders, including the Ameer (Chief) and Shura (Committee) members of the banned terrorist outfit. Police also recovered a bomb weighing around three kilograms, two suicide vests, 10 small bombs, a pistol, 12 bullets and 10 kilograms of bomb-making materials, in the raid.
On June 12, 2017, the CTTC unit of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police arrested six Neo-JMB terrorists in the New Market area of Dhaka city. The group was planning to carry out attacks during Ramadan to mark the anniversary of the deadly Gulshan Cafe attack..
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), since the Gulshan Cafe attack on July 1, 2016, 1,197 Islamist terrorists have been arrested and another 93 killed across Bangladesh. Prominent among those killed were the Neo-JMB leader and mastermind of the Gulshan Cafe attack, Tamim Ahmed Chowdhury aka Shaykh Abu Ibrahim Al Hanif aka Amir (30); the JMB ‘military commander’ for the northern region Khaled Hasan aka Badar Mama (30); Neo-JMB ‘military commander’ Murad aka Jahangir Alam aka Omar; JMB ‘regional commander’ Tulu Mollah (33); JMB ‘regional coordinator’ Abu Musa aka Abujar; Neo-JMB ‘military chief’ Aminur Islam aka Alam (23); Harkat-ul-Jihad-al Islami Bangladesh (HuJI-B) ‘chief’ Mufti Abdul Hannan; and HUJI-B ‘regional commander’ Tajul Islam Mahmud aka Mama Hujur (46) (data till July 23, 2017).
To continue the relentless action against the terrorist formations, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told Parliament on June 30, 2017, the Government has decided to create 50,000 additional posts with the Bangladesh Police. The Home Minister added further, “There is no alternative to ensuring people-friendly Police forces to develop law and order throughout the country. Industrial police, naval police, tourism police, Special Security and Protection Battalion (SBPN), Police Bureau of Investigation (PBI), were added to the organizational structure of Bangladesh Police.”
Earlier, at a meeting chaired by Finance Minister AMA Muhith at the Secretariat on June 18, 2017, to stop terror suspects from getting bail and to make stronger prosecution to fight terrorism, a 16-member taskforce – the National Coordination Committee on Anti-Money Laundering and Combating Financing of Terrorism – under the Finance Ministry asked the Government to introduce a permanent Attorney service to engage competent lawyers. The taskforce is tasked with overseeing the Government’s initiatives to prevent terror financing and money laundering. Raising concerns over the release of a number of terrorist suspects on bail in recent times due to weaknesses of the prosecution, several officials who attended the meeting asserted that, when a suspected terrorist gets bail, it is the prosecutors’ duty to inform the Attorney General’s Office about this, but they failed to do so in most cases. Disturbingly, The Daily Star, the largest circulating daily English-language newspaper in Bangladesh, reported on June 20, 2017, that around 150 suspected terrorists secured bail over the preceding six months, mainly because the prosecutors failed to build up strong cases due to their lack of competence and efficiency.
Significantly, on July 19, 2017, after detecting unusual transactions, the Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit (BFIU) brought the overall activities of 17 foreign non-government development organizations (NGOs) under intense surveillance. Officials disclosed that most of these NGOs were under the control of or affiliated with Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) and were based in Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and other Middle East countries. Major NGOs of the list, which include Bangladesh Krishi Kalyan Samity, Muslim Aid Bangladesh, Rabeta Al-Alam al-Islami, Qatar Charitable Society, Islamic Relief Agency, Al-Furkan Foundation, Kuwait Joint Relief Committee, International Islamic Relief Organization, Hayatul Ighachha, Revival of Islamic Heritage Society, Tawhidi Noor and Al-Muntada al-Islami.
Claiming that terrorists no longer possessed the capacities to carry out attacks like the one at Gulshan Café, as their ‘backbones had been broken’ during anti-terrorist drives across the country, Monirul Islam, the CTTC chief, noted, on June 30, 2017, “They may try to get reorganized again but we’ll hunt down the absconding terrorists, too. So far, eight terrorists who were involved in planning and coordination in the (Gulshan Café) attack have already been killed in different places across the country during anti-terrorist operations in the last one year.” Similarly, Inspector General of Police (IGP) AKM Shahidul Hoque talking to reporters at Police Headquarters on July 2, 2017, noted, “We do not think the terrorists have the strength. Those who are on the run will be captured, no matter how big a leader they are. We are expecting the top absconding Neo-JMB leader to be arrested soon.”
Observing that Bangladesh has set an example for the world with its success in curbing terrorism and extremism, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed stated, on July 5, 2017, “Law enforcement agencies and the Armed Forces together with a cross-section of people have made this possible, and this trend should continue so that terrorists get no place of terrorism and militancy on Bangladesh soil.” Earlier, urging the country’s Muslim population to come forward to check the spread of extremism with a rational approach, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal noted, on June 10, 2017, “At first, a vested quarter carried out extremist activities in the country, and propagated that Qoumi madrassah students are the perpetrators. Later, the quarter targeted the students of universities and English medium schools, and used them to spread extremism across the country, misguiding their young minds. This vested quarter is trying to defame both the country and its Muslim population. You have to come forward to solve your own problem. There’s no scope of ignoring this issue. You have to preach the Islam and its holy messages truthfully.’’
Worryingly, however, on July 9, 2017, bomb experts noted that the deadly explosive Triacetone Triperoxide (TATP), used by terrorists in Paris, Brussels and London attacks, had, of late become Neo-JMB’s explosive of choice in Bangladesh. The experts claimed that they had found evidence of its use in terrorist dens in Rajshahi, Jhenidah and Moulvibazar Districts. Traces of the easy-to-make TATP, known as “the mother of Satan”, was found in surgical belts terrorists use these days instead of suicide belts, and in other bombs. An official of the CTTC bomb disposal team noted, “Only 300 grams of TATP can kill everyone in a 10-meter radius.” Revealing another trend, on July 19, 2017, CTTC unit Deputy Police Commissioner Abdul Mannan disclosed, “Terrorists have begun using encryption to foil efforts by law enforcement to understand their plans. They regularly change the coding language that they use. They use them to encrypt messages sent across messaging apps. We have been able to decipher some of their messages after interrogating captured terrorists.”
Bangladesh has taken giant strides against terrorism and Islamist extremism. Recent proposal to establish a permanent Attorney service with competent lawyers to fight terrorism is a welcome development. However, the recovery of new weapons, explosives and resources during recent raids suggest that flows of material aid to these groups remains significant. Moreover, the continuous involvement of women as combatants has grave implications and potential for the abrupt augmentation of the threat. Bangladesh’s struggle against Islamist extremism and terrorism is far from over and the latent threat persists.
* S. Binodkumar Singh
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management